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TWO+ QUESTIONS, ONE+ ANSWER

Dear Rotoman:

What’s the deal with Andy Benes? Is he worth holding onto? Will he
turn it around in the 2nd half? He’s been a ratio and ERA killer.

Also what are the chances of Freddy Garcia on Pittsburgh playing
more in the 2nd half?

“Close to the Edge”

Dear Rotoman:

At the beginning of the year, everything I read about Dustin
Hermanson
said he was ready for a great season, and that he was one of
the top 10 starting pitchers in the NL. So I grabbed him.

Last week I released him after he compiled a 7+ ERA for me. My questions
are, what is wrong with him, and can he turn it around?

“Hermanson Munster?”

Dear Edge:

Last week I
showed that Albert Belle’s reputation as a “second-half” player
is really an illusion
. Depending on what
years of Belle’s career you look at, he may appear to do better in the
second half or he may not. In fact if you consider how few full seasons of
any particular player’s performance we have to look at, it is probably
impossible to establish a statistically valid preference for either half of
the season for any player.

The samples just aren’t large enough, the patterns simply not defined enough.

But this week we come up against another first-half/second-half problem:
What do you do with a rotten pitcher? Especially one about whom you were
optimistic?

Well, Andy Benes’ best month statistically the last five years, by far, has
been September (and the first few days of October). Last year, after a
dismal start, he put together a second half that redeemed what appeared to
be an irredeemably bad season. Of course, his 0.47 ERA last September goes
a long way toward explaining his apparent prediliction for fast finishes
the past five years.

In fact, if you look at the five years preceding the 1998 season, the
numbers tell us that Andy Benes is a better pitcher the first half of the
year. So, a word to the wise, don’t rely on splits.

As for Mr. Hermanson, I don’t know if he will turn it around. I do know
that in his last three starts he has 1) been good against the Braves, 2)
pitched OK against the Braves, even if the results were mediocre (7 IP, 4
ER) and 3) threw six-plus shutout innings against the Mets (though he was
forced to leave with cramps in his legs on a hot day).

What distinguishes these starts from the three miserable games that
preceded them? Hs strikeouts were up and his walks were down. But clearly
this is too small a sample to base a judgement on.

What I would judge as important, however, is that these are two very good
pitchers. Throughout their careers they’ve been effective and pretty
consistent. They have track records.

Benes might be all over the place, statwise, in any given season, but when
all is said and done he can be counted on to have an above-average ERA. The
wins, of course, take care of themselves. Or they don’t.

Hermanson doesn’t have as extensive a history, but then he’s only been
starting for a few years. A quick look at his years as a reliever, however,
tell you that he hasn’t been abused. And during his time in Montreal you
can be sure he has relished the kid gloves of Felipe Alou’s gentle touch.
And he’s been effective.

So, what’s wrong?

Beats me. Chances are either of these guys could be struggling through some
kind of aches or pains. Maybe a slight muscle pull in spring training
slowed their progress. Maybe an unfortunate tug on a bit of cuticle has
caused a finger to ache. The only thing we really know here is that we
don’t know, because whatever is ailing them isn’t big enough to knock them
out of games, yet.

Does this mean we should panic and chuck them?

I don’t think so. In fact, I think the same advice that I gave for Albert
Belle works here. If you have a top-notch player who is off to a bad start,
and there is no clear-cut ailment slowing them down, your best action is to
hang on and hope they get over it.

Why? Because if they get better they will be better than anybody you could
possibly replace them with.

Might one feel foolish if Andy Benes ends up posting a 5.50 ERA for the
entire season?

You bet. But if you try to trade Benes for someone else, you won’t be able
to get anyone with near the potential, or the track record, Benes has.

The trick is to look past the horror that you are confronting every time
Benes gets knocked around these days. The trick is to see a guy who clearly
has had some success in the past. The trick is to avoid selling low and,
like a fool, buying high.

I should also point out that this advice pertains to all of them. All the
guys who should’ve been better in the first half, who weren’t hurt or going
through a painful divorce, all the guys who have inexplicably stunk.

I’m talking fellows like Darin Erstad and Tom Glavine, Andy Pettitte (I
hope) and Greg Maddux, Pat Hentgen (I hope) and…. Next week we’ll take a
look at the first half flops to focus on acquiring for the second half run.

Freddy Garcia is not one of these guys. He’s always been a glorified
Triple-A player, able to hit a blue streak occasionally, but perhaps I
should leave it to his career stats thus far to tell that part of the story:

.219 AVG, 109 Ks in 365 AB. Oh, and he’s a terrible fielder.

Pirates followers are waiting for Ed Sprague (who has been doing a good job
at the plate) to pull something, anything (apart from an outside fastball)
so they can get to Aramis Ramirez all the quicker. Freddy will never be a
regular.

Regressingly,

Rotoman

SHOULD I?

Dear Rotoman:

I have Ed Sprague on my team, and he has been producing real well on
the cheap. In the past he has turned around and had below-par second
halves. I was wondering if I should keep Sprague and let him play out, or
trade for someone who could produce better in the second half of the
season. I am also lacking in hitters with good pop. Are there any sneak
picks you can think of?

Thanks,
Sleepless in Sprague-attle

Dear Sleepless:

Over the years the leading nom de roto for correspondents with Rotoman has
been, perpetually, some play on the “Sleepless in _____”
expression made popular by Nora Ephron, and her friends Tom Hanks and Meg
Ryan.

Your e-mail is stamped 6:57 p.m., which means unless you’re writing from
Europe or you’re working a dreadful, perverse shift, you aren’t really
sleepless. Or, at least, not as sleepless as you’ll be if you count on Ed
Sprague having a second half equally as productive as his first half.

Because if you believe that good players who play bad in the first half
rebound toward their usual productive selves in the second, you should also
count on no-account bums like Ed Sprague regressing to their usually
no-account productivity, more or less, as the season wanes.

Unless you can find some reason to believe that this time he’s really
changed. Sprague is hitting .315 right now, and is taking a base on balls
three times for every four strikeouts. That’s better than he’s been in the
past (.242 lifetime AVG, 272/664 BB/K). So maybe he’s thinking a little more.

What he isn’t doing is becoming one of the best players in the game. So, if
you can find someone who thinks Sprague is nothing but upside, a deal isn’t
going to hurt you. On the other hand, while it wouldn’t be surprising to
see him endure a 3 for 61 slide somewhere in the second half, he’s likely
to remain the Pirates’ regular third baseman from here on until the end of
August, at least. Which makes him potentially more valuable than a lot of
guys who either don’t have a job, or might lose the one they’ve got.

Regressingly,

Rotoman

WATSON REDUX

Peter,

There is one other aspect to the Allen Watson/Mac Suzuki
deal, although it is unimportant for fantasy purposes. Because of the trade
and waiver of Suzuki, the Mariners will pay Watson’s salary instead of the
Mets (which they would have had to do had they released him). So, assuming
that the Mets were ready to release Watson, Phillips just saved Watson’s
salary and got both the PTBNL and $100 (Suzuki’s waiver price) in return.

Not a great baseball move, and not one likely to draw the attention of
Cablevision or whomever owns the Mets next week, but a pretty good business
decision which will probably pay for one extra day of Bobby Bo.

Kevin Greenberg

Dear Kevin:

Thanks for your note. You are, of course, right. And since you wrote there
has been yet another wrinkle. The Mariners have released Watson.

Now, assuming that they had to expose Mac Suzuki to waivers it might have
made sense for them to deal for a player, rather than to lose him for the
waiver price.

But, what seems to have happened here is that the ever colorful Mr. W.
Woodward seems to have traded Suzuki and the PTBNL for a guy he is obliged
to pay a decent salary, even though he couldn’t find a use for the guy on
his team after only one week!

I’m going to guess that the quality of the PTBNL was to be based on whether
the Mets could slip Suzuki through waivers (they couldn’t, and Suzuki is
now a Royal starting pitcher), and on the amount of time the Mariners kept
Watson on their team.

Otherwise, the ever colorful Mr. Woodward has done nothing here but make
himself look foolish. And that can’t be, can it?

Rotoman

P.S. There’s yet another new wrinkle. There were reports in the New York
papers that the Mets were interested in re-signing Watson to a minor league
contract, but instead the Yankees signed the pitcher that the pitching-poor
Mariners couldn’t find a use for. And then sent him to the minors. The
question I have: If Watson could throw 40 innings for the Mets this season,
why would the Mariners dump him after just a couple of outings for them?
Don’t they have scouts? What did they think they were getting?

Have a question for Rotoman? Contact him directly at

rotoman@baseballprospectus.com
.

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